By: Elizabeth Donovan, M.A.
If you’re a parent, then chances are you’re familiar with a bit of tattling in your life. Sure, you try to ignore it – tell your daughter to go play and “get over it,” but some girls can be truly insistent on ratting out their siblings or playmates. Tattling is the fine art of “telling on everyone” and it’s commonplace for parents to hear phrases like: “Mom, she won’t share with me…Becky is copying my lego castle…Hannah keeps bothering me…Daddy, Missy took Michael’s snack.” And on, and on, and on it goes until you snap and yell “stop tattling” but upon immediately realizing that though you feel much better, your daughter has now burst into tears and the problem has not been resolved.
Why do girls tattle?
A certain amount of tattling is developmentally appropriate for young girls, but what about when it seems that all your daughter does is tattle? Many children tattle because they need a little extra attention. When your daughter tattles, she gets the attention she seeks from you. This makes her feel important and listened to, which serves to reinforce her behavior each time she tattles. Though children typically seek “positive” attention from their parents by tattling, they will often accept negative attention too. Which means that yelling at her to stop can exacerbate the problem instead of resolve it.
How to deal with a tattler
What parents really want to know is when to draw the line between tattling and a true need to inform an adult when there is a genuine problem. Drawing a distinction between your daughters needs and teaching her to be independent and problem-solve on her own can be difficult at times. After all, we all want our children to feel like the can come to us with anything, but we also want them to understand what’s appropriate to tell us and what is not.
1. If it’s attention she seeks, then give it to her by offering leadership roles. If you feel your daughter is seeking additional attention, find ways to make her feel important and in control without tattling. For example, you might want to ask her to show her little sister how to set the table or take some special time to make cookies with her. Provide your daughter with more ‘leadership’ roles in the home and watch her tattling decrease and her pride and confidence increase.
2. Teach her when it’s appropriate to tell mom and dad and when it’s not. Draw a distinction between tattling and telling by using real-life examples of when its ok to tell and when she should try to resolve the problem on her own. Let her know the value of being able to solve her own problems and when it’s important to tell an adult. For example, if someone physically harms her, then she should always tell an adult. However, if she’s upset that her little brother took a huge bite out of her sandwich, then that might be a situation where she can make her feelings known without getting mom or dad involved.
3. Make her aware of the consequences of tattling. Tattling, like most things in life, has consequences. Studies have indicated that children how tattle too much can become the target of bullying and arguments. Continually tattling on other children can also cause your daughter to lose friends and become isolated from her peer group.
4. Ask her how she feels about tattling. As parents, we often jump head first into trying to solve our daughter’s problems without stopping to ask them how they feel about the situation. Ask your daughter how she feels about tattling and how she feels when she does it. Even toddlers are usually able to express themselves verbally and can provide you with important information on how to help them.
5. Know when it’s the real deal. Some children tattle on the same child. If that’s the case, explore the reasons behind why your daughter has singled out this particular child to tattle on. Perhaps the child is picking on her or touching her inappropriately. Maybe your daughter is trying to tell you something the only way she knows how – by tattling.
Remember, most of the time children are just going through a phase, but if your find your daughter is continually tattling, then it’s time to talk with her about it. Severe tattling can result in the loss of friends, isolation, and bullying so it’s important for you to continue to love and support your daughter by working with her to become a good problem solver.
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- A Father’s Thoughts on Bullies